Okay, Now What?

With Adrian Gonzalez out of the picture, the Padres have made it clear that they intend to focus on building their next contending ballclub. The question is, How do they do that?

Take Inventory

Here is a list of more-or-less-ready (define as loosely as necessary to make this work) players currently in the organization:

CA: Nick Hundley
1B: Mike Baxter*, Kyle Blanks (hurt), Jesus Guzman, Oscar Salazar
2B: Everth Cabrera+, Micah Jarrett Hoffpauir
3B: Chase Headley+
SS: Cabrera+
LF: Aaron Cunningham, Chris Denorfia, Luis Durango+, Ryan Ludwick, Salazar, Will Venable*
CF: Denorfia, Durango+, Cameron Maybin, Venable*
RF: Cunningham, Denorfia, Salazar, Venable*
SP: Aaron Harang, Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc*, Cory Luebke*, Clayton Richard*, Tim Stauffer
RP: Mike Adams, Heath Bell, Ernesto Frieri, Luke Gregerson, Luis Perdomo, Cesar Ramos*, Adam Russell, Joe Thatcher*

* Left-handed batter or pitcher
+ Switch-hitter

There is no backup catcher. First base options are unhealthy or unproven. Middle infield is worse. The outfield corners aren’t a complete disaster, and center field… well, the Padres have committed to Maybin, so that’s that.

On the pitching side, Simon Castro and Casey Kelly could enter into the rotation equation at some point during the season, but there’s no hurry. When they get the call, it should be for good. Wait until they’re ready.

In the bullpen, Perdomo and Ramos stink but have experience. Brandon Gomes and Evan Scribner are less advanced but could contribute. Maybe Aaron Poreda will learn how to throw a strike (I used to say “strikes” plural but I’ve lowered the bar; one would suffice… then later maybe try to repeat it).

Assess Strengths and Weaknesses

Our inventory may not be a perfect representation of the situation but it gives us a reasonable starting point. Relative strengths are outfield and pitching depth. Weaknesses are catching depth and an infield that consists of exactly one legitimate big-league player.

Money is less of a concern than it was before the Gonzalez trade, which is to say it is still a concern. Any free agents that might come to San Diego will be of the scrap heap variety (Harang, e.g., is a good value play, but hardly cause for excitement).

Ludwick might be useful to, say, a National League Central team that witnessed his monster 2008 campaign up close and personal. Bell’s name has been mentioned, although I suspect he’ll fetch more in August, when contenders become desperate for relief help.

Beyond Bell and Ludwick, everyone else is unproven, cheap, or both. Such players are likely to be of greater value to the Padres than to any potential trade partners. Keep them and hope that they establish themselves before they become expensive.

Devise and Attempt to Excute a Strategy

My strategy of choice would be to plug holes with short-term solutions by bottom feeding on the free agent market and shopping Bell and/or Ludwick. And there’s always the Rule V draft (Gaslamp Ball suggests possible targets; reader dts317 offers some ideas of his own), which the Padres may need to lean on to a degree that makes everyone uncomfortable. (Now batting… for the San Diego Padres… Donaldo… Mendez!)

If I were running the club, here’s what I would do, or attempt to do. We’ll go by position again:

CA: Sign the cheapest available veteran that won’t impede Hundley’s progress. Find the guy who would make the best coach. I don’t have names in mind, but the ideal candidate would start 50-60 games behind the dish and fill Hundley with abundant wisdom.

1B: Sign Lyle Overbay or Adam LaRoche to a 1-year deal if the price is right (specifically, somewhere in the range of pretty cheap to really cheap). Neither costs a draft pick. If Ludwick can be moved, go for the pretty cheap option; otherwise, go for the really cheap one. (Sure, the money would be better spent on a middle infield solution, but there aren’t any worthy paying. Sign a first baseman instead; get a big-league bat in the lineup, it’ll be fun.) Failing Overbay or LaRoche, another option would be to stick Baxter and Guzman (thanks to readers dts317 and Didi for reminding me that the Padres signed him) at first and hope they can hold the position until Blanks and/or Anthony Rizzo is ready. (Then hope that those guys will be ready at some point… there’s a lot of hope in this part of the plan.)

2B: Run Cabrera out there every day. If he returns to 2009 form, that’s one less thing to worry about in 2012 (unless he’s one of those odd/even year freaks). If not, drop him and try something different. Maybe Logan Forsythe will become the player we all hoped Matt Antonelli would be… or Jake Gautreau… or some other converted collegiate third baseman who never made it.

3B: Hope Headley learns to hit at Petco Park. Hope James Darnell can stay at the hot corner. Try not to worry about it too much. This is one of the team’s more stable areas. It’s not exciting, but there’s enough “excitement” elsewhere to keep everyone on their toes for a while.

SS: Try to bring back Jerry Hairston Jr. for about what he made in 2010. When it becomes obvious that he won’t, shop Ludwick for a warm body that can stand out there while you hope against all hope that Drew Cumberland magically develops the health tool.

LF: Get rid of Ludwick. Sure, he has power, but who cares? He’s relatively expensive and absolutely immobile. Some teams can use a guy like that. Find those teams, talk to them: “Hi, we have a power-hitting statue. He’s a little pricy for our needs, but he’d look great in your garden. Do you have anyone who can stand midway between second and third base for a year? You do? Super, let’s do it.” Once Ludwick is gone, give Cunningham the starting job.

CF: Hope Maybin turns into Mike Cameron. Willie Mays would be better, but let’s not get greedy.

RF: Give Venable 500-600 plate appearances. He can’t hit lefties? Well, he can’t if he never tries. Let him try. Maybe it turns out he can’t even when he tries, but now would be a great time to find out what, exactly, Venable is capable of doing at this level… figure out (to steal again from Steven Wright) if he’s part of the solution or the precipitate.

SP: Send Luebke to Triple-A, let him know that if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, he’ll be back soon. Give LeBlanc the no. 5 spot in the rotation. Start him at Petco Park… against weak teams… when the opposing manager is resting his regulars. Hope LeBlanc pitches well, then move him for that warm body that Ludwick wouldn’t fetch (or for a fallback option if the body that Ludwick fetched isn’t so warm after all). If LeBlanc can’t be moved by mid-May, stick him in the bullpen or let him go (depending on how he’s performing) and bring Luebke back up for good.

RP: Hold onto Bell until the non-waiver trade deadline (I haven’t studied the issue, but it seems like the value of relievers is greater then than in the off-season). Make sure he gets enough work to stay on everyone’s radar, but be cautious. Pray for his health. If you aren’t the praying type, find someone who is.

Here’s our hypothetical lineup:

  1. Cabrera 2B
  2. Maybin CF
  3. Overbay 1B
  4. Headley 3B
  5. Cunningham LF
  6. Venable RF
  7. Hundley C
  8. I Don’t Care SS

And here’s our hypothetical rotation:

  1. Latos
  2. Richard
  3. Harang
  4. Stauffer
  5. Luebke

Well, that’s what I’d do. How’s about you?

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24 Responses »

  1. Hang onto Ludwick (we can suddenly afford him now), get Branyan to help out at first and go with a three-way of JJ, Everth, and Brendan Ryan for the middle infield.

    I’d also like to see them sign Millwood to help eat up some innings, but I’m not greedy.

  2. Some alternatives on this day of mourning, because even if you understand that trades, like death, are part of the circle of life, it doesn’t make them not hurt, Simba.

    1. Send Cabrera to Tucson to play SS. He’s had almost no time in the high minors. Why burn a year of service in a lost season?

    2. Trade a C prospect to St. Louis for Brendan Ryan. He can’t hit, won’t hit, but he can field, and that’s worth something to a team that will have so many young, valuable pitchers.

    3. Use the Wilson Ramos standard for a Bell trade. If somebody offers you a B or a better prospect this winter, move him now. The Blue Jays don’t currently have an experienced closer and they traded for Lawrie. Bell may not be worth Lawrie, and Toronto may be fine with Janssen, but that’s a call worth making. They might even be a destination for Ludwick. They picked up Rajai Davis, but Ludwick’s better.

    4. Sign at least one more veteran SP, one who isn’t turned off by the team’s having lost our best position player since Tony Gwynn. That seems to leave Chris Young out. I doubt we get 200 IP out of Harang, there’s no reason to let Latos throw even as many as he did last year, Stauffer should be closely watched…..we need an arm that can be ridden into the ground every 5 starts.

    5. As an alternative to #4, do something unprecedented with the major league rotation. Use 6 or even 7 guys, including Liz, who had decent peripherals last year for Portland. Make Harang and LeBlanc a tandem starter. Put a 5 inning limit on every starter (except Harang) for the first half of the year, but have them throw 1 real inning on their in-between throw days instead of working on the side. Whatever the specific plan, the idea would be to structurally protect the young arms in the absence of an innings-eater.

    6. Grab a Rule 5 second baseman. Or hell, play Hoffpauir.

    7. And as GY says, don’t go promoting Castro / Kelly / anybody else who might contribute in a big way to the next good Padre team until they’re absolutely ready. That just hastens their first big payday.

  3. We can afford Ludwick, but he’s not going to help at the gate and we can use his money in the draft or the international market.

    The 2011 needs to be kick-ass effort. Most of the fault for Whitson seems to lie with Whitson himself, but not all of it. This is not the year to take a Drew Storen at 10 or low-ceiling signable collegians with the FA comp picks.

  4. I think the one thing that made the Adrian deal happen was that Hoyer realized their dollars weren’t going to go as far this off-season as they did last year and simply put there wasn’t enough pieces to make another run.

    Ok, I can accept that and we move on to 2012.

    Agree on Cabrera – wasn’t he suppose to be a good defensive SS at one point? If so, give him the SS job because that’s a more difficult defensive position.

    Play Cabrera, Hundley, Maybin, and Venable basically everyday. You have to see what they are and 2011 is the best bet for that.

    Bell and Ludwick both need to go at some point, whenever they carry the most value.

    Not sure on signing a 1B – playing Blanks there everyday makes a lot of sense while giving Cunningham time in LF. Again, let’s find out who should be here in 2012 and bank as much draft money as we can (we’ll be picking high again next year).

  5. I’m a Ludwick fan (it’s pathological and I need help), but the statue description cracked me up.

    Tom’s suggestion of grabbing Brendan Ryan is a good one. The Cardinals plan to shop him with Ryan Theriot in the fold (although I’d keep Ryan and put Theriot at second, but whatever), and Ryan can absolutely pick it. Ryan was #1 in Dewan’s Runs Saved metric (24) at shortstop in 2010 (1100+ innings). Sure he can’t hit (although he did homer in Petco last season), but he will prevent runs – which this team will desperately need.

  6. Put the Tony Gwynn statue in right field. It won’t field or hit but it will sell tickets. Shaun White at SS. Same theory. He can do skateboarding demos between innings. For the kids.

  7. Nit pick: it’s Jarrett Hoffpauir, not Micah.

  8. @Ray: Good call on Braynan; I forgot about him. He did well here.

    @TW: Thanks for the circle of life quote. Spot-on.

    @Mike: I’m liking the idea of Ryan, too. I wonder if, even after signing Berkman, the Cardinals would have interest in reacquiring Ludwick?

    @Josh: Love it.

    @Wells: Thanks; fixed.

  9. Catcher – grab Gerald Laird. Hundley had a year of Blanco and a year of Torrealba. No more coaching. Laird’s a cheap backup.

    I like the idea of Branyan coming back if LaRoche can’t be brought in.

    Bell or Ludwick for Lawrie for the Blue Jays, see if they bite. Beyond that, bring in the Astros INF or see if Cumberland is healthy and ready to play. I’ve got no other option, might as well throw it against the wall.

    Cabrera at SS – see comments on Venable. Time for him to put up or shut up.

    Outfield, might as well go with Cunningham or Baxter; what have we got to lose? Unless someone really cheap pops up, I’d almost ask about Reggie Willits from the Angels, leadoff hitter and slaps it around. Hasn’t been given a chance to start, something good might happen.

  10. Good analysis…and thanks for helping some of us undergoing despair to move us along the change curve. Remember, the fire sale of 92/93 led to the 94-97 teams. The Marlins do the same over and over. This year’s Texas Rangers are a product of raping the Braves for Teixeira. So it works if you know your talent.

    One thing this upcoming year’s team can excel at is defense… like last year, they can roll out a very above average defensive squad out there. If they’re not going to hit and score runs, they can at least keep margins and games close by taking away runs. Maybin and Venable will cover more outfield than any 2 guys in the league. Headley is above average. Cabrera is above average in range. If they go get Ryan, a middle infield of him and Cabrera will get to a LOT of balls. Having Petco’s spaciousness and an excellent defensive team will help developing pitchers immensely, especially when the bullpen is still very strong, and starters need only go 5-6 innings… which was last year’s key to pitching success with a below average group of starters. I can see doing a 1-yr run with a 1b like LaRoche. The key is let’s not waste developmental ABs with guys that have no future. But put out a strong defensive squad… that and the bullpen are still major advantages of this team. From a ticketholder standpoint, its still fun watching young guys develop and lose 3-2 and be in games than losing 10-3 with a bunch of aging vets playing the string out (see Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City).

  11. Dean Martin in Right Field, Vic Damone in Center, Steve and Eydie in Left…

  12. Here’s my take.

    RULE V: Padres draft Clay Zavada and Matt Lawson (reasoning below).

    CATCHER: Sign Greg Zaun for 1 yr $1.25 mil. Hundley and Zaun split catching duties.

    1B: Sign Nick Johnson for ~$2.5 mil to play 1B (if that’s an option). Give Guzman the backup job – he’ll get plenty of at bats if/when Johnson is hurt. Mike Baxter is around if things go badly. Kyle Blanks could be able to help by June/July.

    2B: Sign Adam Kennedy for 1 yr ~$1 mil. He’s a Cali guy, and maybe they get a little extra out of him. If not, he keeps the position semi-warm for another year. Matt Lawson plays a solid 2B and can get some starts here. If they’re lucky, he shows enough to be an option in 2012.

    SS: Sign Hairston Jr. for 1 yr $1.5 mil. Send Cabrera to AAA while it’s still an option. Consider a mid-season callup IF he puts in a solid first half. Sign Bobby Crosby (another Cali guy) for depth, could probably be had for a minor league contract/spring invite.

    3B: Headley

    OF: Ludwick/Maybin/Venable with Denorfia filling in all over. Cunningham is available to bring up if someone hits the DL, as are Mike Baxter and Durango.

    ROTATION: Break the rules and sign Rich Harden or Brandon Webb to an innings-based incentive deal (~$4 mil+). If that fails, target someone like Jeff Francis ($2 mil), John Maine ($1.5 mil), or Justin Duchscherer ($1 mil). The rest of the rotation is Latos/Harang/Stauffer/Richard. Luebke goes to AAA for more seasoning and LeBlanc is ready when needed.

    PEN: The usual suspects. Zavada gets stashed until he recovers from Tommy John, and follows that with a 30-day minor-league rehab. They bring him up in the 2nd half and see if he’s a bullpen fit. Fill out the bullpen with a long man like LeBlanc, Ramos, Inman, Perdomo, or Liz.

    C – Hundley
    1B – Johnson
    2B – Kennedy
    SS – Hairston
    3B – Headley
    LF – Ludwick
    CF – Maybin
    RF – Venable

    Bench: Zaun/Guzman/Lawson/Denorfia/Crosby

    SP – Latos
    SP – Harang
    SP – Richard
    SP – Stauffer
    SP – Webb/etc.

    CL – Bell
    SU – Adams
    SU – Gregerson
    RP – Frieri
    LP – Thatcher
    RP – Russell/Scribner/etc.
    MR – LeBlanc/Ramos/etc.

  13. Jed said he had a number of deals in the works, and it’s months until ST. I suspect this post will have to be rewritten with several new names added and a few deleted. Considering what he’s gotten for what he’s given up, Jed hasn’t made a really bad move yet against several good ones, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

    No matter what happens, you can expect the preseason predictions to be 70-75 wins and last place, just like last year. I personally expect Bud to lead a roster that plays like a team, with better results than predicted, confounding people who think you need a star at every position.

  14. The question that should be asked in each case is “will this guy be a part of the next team that contends for the division title?” In some cases, the answer is neither yes nor no yet, so those are the guys you play as much as possible in 2011 to find out. Occasionally you’ll keep a “no” on the roster because the rules say you have to field nine men (somebody like Branyan would fall into that category). But otherwise, you keep the yesses, play the maybes, and get rid of the noes.

    Maybin and Cabrera are maybes — they should see 400 or more PAs in 2011. Hundley the same. Headley, IMO, has already proven that he’s a yes. You might find a BETTER yes to replace him, but the fact is that we contended in 2010 with him at 3B and since we did so based upon run prevention and he was a big factor in that, his mediocre offense can be tolerated. The rest of the OFs are all maybes with the exception of Gwynn (who’s a no) and Ludwick, who is coming off an off-year at age 32 and should be considered trade fodder while he still retains value from previous good years.

    On the pitching staff, Latos and Richard are yesses, and Stauffer is a maybe. Luebke should be up mid-season to get his feet good and wet. Harang and LeBlanc have to be around for the days when the umpire insists that you have to pitch somebody or forfeit the game. The bullpen is fine, and I wouldn’t trade Bell for anything less than a Maybin, which is to say someone who has the promise of being a starter right away under team control for several years. Trading him for Bartlett, for example, makes little sense because Bartlett is an FA after one year.

    2011 is going to be a long season and 2012 will be a time of experimentation — show and tell time for guys like Kelly and Castro and Rizzo. By 2013, with any luck in the developing players, the Padres should be serious contenders with a minor-league system that is ready to grind out solid prospects for half a decade.

  15. Geoff, on a day that I’m lamenting how we can never keep anybody good (we have to give Boston Ted Williams AND Adrian Gonzalez?), your entry made me laugh. Ludwick as a statue — classic. He may not be the fastest guy on the block (street? alley? step?) but, he was faster than Adrian. My hope was always to see a charity race between Adrian and Philip Rivers. I’d have paid good money for that hour of entertainment necessary for them to run the 100-yard dash.

    Anyway, thanks for the laugh. Ludwick may not be fast, but at least he hit around .220 for us last year.

  16. Minus out a couple of guys, and suddenly it seems like we’re “rebuilding” a team that wasn’t supposed to go anywhere last year anyway. I like the way you think about Ludwick, getting a stick at 1B, and try to re-up Jerry Hairston. Not sure about Cabrera every day, platoon him with Hairston so Jerry isn’t up 475 times.

    No one else is likely to say this, but I will: I liked Denorfia last year. He has no ‘tools’, average everything, but goes hard. I saw several plays last year when he made plus throws; he won one game with a hit and another with a catch. He had the next best OPS to AGon and Stairs last year, aggressive at the plate.
    He doesn’t have the range to cover CF as well as the Pads need, and now they don’t need to stick him out there, but I like the guy as fourth outfielder, ahead of Gwynn. I think Venable swings at way too many bad pitches, but they need ONE guy in the lineup who might hit 15 homers, but if I am Black (glad I am not, especially now), I want Denorfia as my first option off the bench.

  17. I’d take Derrek Lee at first, or maybe LaRoche to share time with Blanks once he’s able to play in a lefty/righty platoon. I do think Blanks needs to get the majority of the playing time in the second half the season, and not in left field. The Padres truly need to know what’s he capable of before Rizzo shows his stuff.

    As far as the middle infield, I don’t know who we’ll end up with, but I think we absolutely need to stick Cabrera in AAA for a year. As someone said earlier, he’s never had significant time in the upper minors. It could do him some good.

    I’m torn on Ludwick. There’s really no need to pay him, unless you think you can flip him for something in July, but that risks injury or being Petco’ed. I’m not sold on Cunningham as an everyday player yet, so we may be stuck with him for a while.

  18. Maybe I am missing something, but why did the Padres not sign Garland and then decide to sign Harang. Garland signed for just $1 million with the Dodgers.

  19. Everything has been pretty well covered here, but my thoughts

    C: Hundley, (Cheap) Backup

    1B: Jesus/Baxter/Blanks, but wouldn’t be against getting a Branyan/LaRoche for cheap.

    2B/SS: I’d do everything I could to bring back Jairston, seemed to be pretty good wherever he was in the field, and better in the clubhouse. Not ready to give up on Cabrera yet either, still plus speed, and if he can relearn how to bunt for hits (see ’08 not ’09) then he can be a weapon at the top of the lineup, also shows flashes of strong defense.

    3B: Can’t really complain about Headley, actually his defense last year looked like an improvement over a guy who only made 6 errors the season before.

    OF: Seems like a mess. Maybin is the guy in CF for at least 2-3 years.

    Venable gets a spot in a corner just based on potential power and established speed (if he can even pretend to hit for average, he could be a guy to lock down for a while).

    Can’t disagree with moving Ludwick, but I hope he can do something offensively this year before we do. I would be surprised to see much back for him either way though, If the money wasn’t an issue they’d probably be better off letting him play out the season and getting a draft pick.

    Love rooting for effort guys like Denorfia and CunningSlam, and if they split time as 3rd/4th OF that is acceptable.

    SP: Latos, Richard, Stauffer, Harang, Leblanc/Leubke. dts317, I don’t know about those $ numbers for the FA pitchers you suggested, seem low (if Harang is $3 mil at SD discount), but if that’s the case, they should definitely sign 2 more and just see who sticks. I’d hold off on Castro/Kelly for a season but give them a hard look for the 2012 rotation.

    RP: Still strong. I’m with Geoff on waiting on Bell; every year teams pay for bad closers hoping they will turn into good setup men, imagine what a good closer will fetch.

  20. @Loren: Laird isn’t a bad idea; he’s a local kid.

    @Patrick: Yeah, we’ll be fine. The ’93 Fire Sale provides a great example of how to rebuild when your back is up against the wall. And the Padres’ current situation is nowhere near that dire… Totally agree about the Bal/Pit/KC comment.

    @FBR: Love the Steve and Edie idea. Their cover of “Black Hole Sun” remains a fave.

    @dts317: I could see Zaun. I’m intrigued/scared by Harden/Webb… would be gutsy.

    @Larry: You bet this will have to be rewritten. I look forward to it!

    @LaMar: Laughter is good… beats dwelling on things we cannot control.

    @Frank: Agreed on Denorfia. He isn’t a stud but he’s a useful guy to have.

    @Kevin: Garland and the Padres had a mutual option. Garland declined the option and signed with the Dodgers (for $5M plus incentives and a club option in 2012).

  21. Molina at catcher
    Hudson at 2B
    Trade for Ryan at SS
    Re-sign JHairston
    Branyan, Nick Johnson, LaRoche, or Overbay at 1B
    Millwood to finish out the rotation

    I figure all this can be had for $13-$20 million, putting the Padres payroll around $40-$48 million. Trade Ludwick if money becomes an issue and start Cunningham. The Padres would also be smart to move Bell and save some salary, unless they think they can re-sign him to a club-friendly 3-year extension (3/$21 mil, which still leaves him movable).

  22. Dude, I don’t care has been raking in AAA

  23. Special occasion only – Maybe when the zonies come to Petco.. we could sign Kevin Towers to pitch short relief for the Pads.
    Oh.. and then we should re-sign Trevor Hoffman to do the ninth and ring the bells again. Serious about Hoffman.

  24. Hmmm… Bartlett trade not happening yet? Wow, I wonder if Russell is hurt again; wasn’t he? Can’t imagine Ramos being the hold-up for the trade.

    Ludwick and Bell have got to be on the trading block. I can’t imagine why the Padres would keep them going into a rebuilding season. As to the timing, whether now or around spring training shouldn’t make to much of a difference. I can see Bell hanging around until the All-Star break, but what upside is there to keeping Ludwick until then? Shed cost now in the off-season.

    I like Tom Waits’ idea of going with more starting pitching and fewer innings per pitcher. It looks like the signing of both Harang and Moseley would do that. With Latos, Richard, Stauffer, LeBlanc, Luebke to round up the rotation, that would be a good 6-7 pitching rotation. I’m completely okay if none of the SPs even get to 200 IP next season.

    I’d rather see 1B with Baxter/Blanks/Jesus than spending the money to sign a FA 1B. If any FA should be pursued, it would have to fill 2B/SS position. The Padres are going to have even more trouble scoring runs next season; why not upgrade the defense (though, Eckstein was good last year)?

    On another note, I wish Kevin Correia the best in Pittsburgh. I’m happy he gets the 2-year contract. Thanks for all he’s done for the Padres.

    BTW, Geoff, can we get a list of Adrian Gonzalez’s great glove work with the Padres?

    For example, the last game of the season from 07/08, when he pounced on the ground ball in the hole and threw to 2B with a runner at 1B for the last out of the season to seal a victory.

    And, maybe a list for the bad, e.g., when he bobbled the ground ball to let a run score during a loss to the Cubs at Petco this last week of the season.